All those who morning, noon and night insist that the current status quo, with the Israel Defense Forces policing the Palestinian populated areas of Judea and Samaria, is unsustainable should be desperately searching for other arrangements that might improve on the present situation. If they are hoping that an agreement will be reached between the Israeli government and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas that would open the way for such an improvement, they are likely to be sorely disappointed.
Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, does not recognize Abbas as its spokesman, and as for the Palestinian population in Judea and Samaria, their support for Abbas is questionable. In any case, he hardly seems to be in a position to make any commitments in his negotiations with Israel, or to implement any commitments he might undertake. His reticence to enter direct negotiations with Israel is a fairly good indication of his tenuous position. So if that is leading to a dead end, what then?
The Jordanian option has on occasion been raised as a promising approach. After all, most of Jordan's population is Palestinian. For 19 years, Judea and Samaria were part of Jordan, its population Jordanian citizens, and the geographic juxtaposition between Israel and Jordan should make delineating the border between the two countries in an agreement considerably easier than reaching a deal on a border between Israel and a Palestinian state that might be established in the area. There is only one problem - the Jordanians won't hear of it. They don't want to overload their security apparatus, which has been functioning quite effectively, by including another 1.5 million Palestinians within their borders.
The conventional wisdom, pronounced by many Israelis and Palestinians alike, is that in the absence of an agreement with the Palestinians, Israel will either eventually cease to be a democracy or cease to exist. This calamitous prognostication is worthy of some scrutiny.
What would happen if Israeli sovereignty were to be applied to Judea and Samaria, the Palestinian population there being offered Israeli citizenship? Those who, in Israel and abroad, consider the Israeli "occupation" of Judea and Samaria an unbearable evil should be greatly relieved by such a change that would free Israel of the burden of "occupation." If the Palestinians in Judea and Samaria are given the right to vote in Israeli elections, like the Palestinians currently living in Israel, Israel would not cease to be a democracy. Nor would it cease to exist, although its demography would change significantly. However, Israel would face the serious challenge of absorbing the Palestinian population in Judea and Samaria into the fabric of Israeli society. Can Israel be expected to meet such a challenge?
Israel already has a substantial minority population - Muslims, Christians, Druze and a small group of Circassians. The Druze and the Circassians can serve as an example of the successful integration of a minority group into Israeli society, mainly by virtue of their service in the IDF. With little assistance from the Israeli government, many of Israel's Christian citizens are gradually finding their way into Israeli society. It is Israel's Muslim minority, 17 percent of the country's population, that still has a long way to go before it feels at home in the State of Israel, enjoying not only equality of rights but also equality of opportunities.
Much of the blame for this rests on successive Israeli governments that have not taken effective action to integrate Israel's Muslim citizens. Very vocal Israeli Arab politicians, who spout anti-Israeli rhetoric at every opportunity that drowns out the voice of the silent majority of Israel's Muslim citizens, bear the rest of the responsibility for this unhappy state of affairs. This situation, in any case, needs urgent rectification.
Adding another 1.5 million Muslims, the population of Judea and Samaria, to Israel's Muslim population would of course make the situation considerably more difficult. Would a 30-percent Muslim minority in Israel create a challenge that would be impossible for Israeli society to meet? That is a question that Israeli politicians, and all Israelis - Jews and Arabs alike - need to ponder.
Unlike the dire predictions heard so often, Israeli sovereignty over Judea and Samaria would not be the end of the State of Israel, nor would it mean the end of democratic governance in Israel. It would, however, pose a serious challenge to Israeli society. But that is equally true for the other options being suggested for dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This option of Israeli sovereignty in Judea and Samaria merits serious consideration.
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